Entry-level vehicles can be a great way for an automaker to expand its sales footprint. Selling a more affordable vehicle can bring in new buyers that may remain with the brand for future vehicle purchases. We're seeing this now with SUV sales. The popularity of these utility vehicles has brought a blizzard of new crossovers and SUV, mostly in smaller packages.
With that in mind, Mercedes-Benz has made some intriguing changes to its lineup of smaller cars and crossovers that would appear to position it well for first-time of step-up buyers.
For the 2020 model year, the company has introduced the 2020 GLB compact SUV that offers an $850 third-row option (seemingly targeted at families that have pairs of little legs) and has refreshed its CLA coupe-like sedan with its AMG variant. This comes on the heals of the 2019 A-Class entry sedan (new to the U.S. market) that has already found executive-perk drivers.
For 2021, the company is refreshing its smallest crossover, the GLA.
With these refreshes, Mercedes-Benz is setting up an expanded lineup for buyers who are new to the brand, and offering enough variety of SUVs to both capitalize on these sales and attract new customers who may upgrade later to the C-Class, GLC, or GLE.
These compact vehicles also share engines, transmissions (up to a point), the Mercedes-Benz User Experience interface, and an array of advanced driver assistance technologies.
We drove the GLB 250, CLA 250, and AMG CLA 35 at a press event in Scottsdale, Ariz., in early December.
GLB: An Adaptable Compact SUV
Arriving to slot between the GLA and GLC, the GLB offers a compact SUV that's slightly shorter than the GLC. It's 111.4-inch wheelbase compares to the GLC's 113.1-inch wheelbase, and it's 182.2-inch length is 1.1 inches shorter.
The GLB's exterior is a knock off the G block, and reminds this writer of the GLK, which ceased production after the 2015 model. It has a sleek, boxiness with a hood that gently slopes toward its nose. It's pleasing front grille employs a propeller motif to integrate its three-point star.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four is the same engine that powers the A-Class and CLA sedans with different power ratings. This one is good for 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of peak torque. The GLB never feels underpowered and it's pairing with an eight-speed dual clutch transmission provides quicker shifts to keep fuel economy from plummeting.
EPA-rated fuel economy for the front-wheel model comes in at 23 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined. Adding the 4Matic all-wheel drive increases fuel economy to 31 mpg on the highway and keeps the other two ratings the same.
Driver-assistance safety tech can be added via the Driver Assistance package that includes adaptive cruise control with route-based speed adjustments based on map data, steering assist, brake assist, speed limit assit cued by the navigation, blind spot assist, and lane keeping.
The GLB 250 retails for $37,595; adding 4Matic adds $2,000.
2020 CLA: Buying for Style
The arrival of the A-Class has pushed the CLA 250 into the realm of a stylish, more powerful entry sedan. It's turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four makes 221 hp (compared the the A 220's 188 hp), which increases hp by 23 over the outgoing model. The engine is paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
The CLA, which enters its second generation, has grown in length and is 5.5 inches longer and 1.3 inches wider than the A-Class.
The sleekly-designed 2020 CLA 250 improves the driving dynamics from the outgoing model, and should remain a viable choice as an entry choice as a perk for corporate executives.
The 2020 CLA 250 retails for $37,645, while adding 4Matic increases the starting price to $39,645.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB Specs
- Engine: 2.0L I-4 (221 hp, 258 lb.-ft.)
- Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch system
- All-wheel drive: Optional 4Matic on all trims
- Cargo Space: 62 cu.-ft. with rear seats folded (two-row model)